Kenyan police fire on protesters in new clashes after president's tax climbdown

By Aaron Ross and Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo

NAIROBI (Reuters) -A climbdown by Kenya's president over plans to raise taxes brought no end to nationwide protests on Thursday, with at least two people reported killed in clashes near the capital Nairobi and others shot by police elsewhere.

A day after President William Ruto abandoned a tax hike bill, demonstrators in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and other cities called for him to step down, although crowds were smaller than earlier in the week.

Police fired teargas at dozens of protesters in Nairobi and blocked off roads to the presidential palace. In the town of Homa Bay in western Kenya, police said officers had shot at protesters when they tried to torch police vehicles.

"I can confirm seven people have been admitted in hospital with gunshot wounds. Police opened fire when protesters attempted to burn police vehicles," said Hassan Barua, Migori police commander.

The Standard newspaper said two people had been killed as police clashed with anti-tax protesters looting two supermarkets in Ongata Rongai, a town on the outskirts of Nairobi. Police did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ruto withdrew the legislation including new taxes and hikes on Wednesday, a day after parliament was briefly stormed and set ablaze while trying to vote through his plans and at least 23 people were killed in clashes.

Ruto is grappling with the most serious crisis of his two-year-old presidency as the youth-led protest movement has grown rapidly from online condemnations of the tax hikes into mass rallies demanding a political overhaul.

Dropping the bill hits his plan to reduce the budget deficit and borrowing, as demanded by lenders including the International Monetary Fund.

Volunteer group Medics for Kenya said its staff at the Jamia Mosque/Crescent hospital had been hit by teargas, and that it condemned in "the strongest terms possible violence meted out on our volunteer medical teams".

Reuters reporters saw army vehicles on the streets after the government deployed the military to help police.

"It's not good for the military to get involved in this civilian matter, we are not at war. We are peaceful," said motorbike taxi drive John Ngugi.

The high court on Thursday rejected a petition to compel the government to withdraw the military, the Daily Nation newspaper said.

Elsewhere, hundreds of protesters gathered in the port city of Mombasa and in the western city of Kisumu, local television footage showed, although those gatherings appeared peaceful.

"We are only coming here so that our voice can be heard, us as Gen Z, us as Kenyans, we are one," said Berryl Nelima in Mombasa. "So the police should stop killing us, we are just peaceful protesters, we are unarmed."

The protest movement has no formal leadership structure and has largely responded to messages, banners and slogans on social media. Posts on Thursday suggested protest supporters were divided on how far to carry the demonstrations.

"Let's not be foolish as we fight for a better Kenya," Boniface Mwangi, a prominent social justice activist, said in an Instagram post.

He voiced support for demonstrations on Thursday but opposed calls to invade State House, the president's formal offices and residence, a move that he said could spur more violence and be used to justify a crackdown.

While some protest supporters said they would not demonstrate on Thursday as the finance bill had been scrapped, others pledged to press on, saying only Ruto's resignation would satisfy them.

"Right now is not about just the finance bill but about #RutoMustGo," political activist and protester Davis Tafari told Reuters in a text message. "We have to make sure that Ruto and his MPs have resigned and fresh elections are held ... We occupy State House for dignity and justice."


In a speech on Wednesday, Ruto defended his push to raise taxes on items such as bread, cooking oil and diapers, saying it was justified by the need to cut Kenya's high debt, which has made borrowing difficult and squeezed the currency.

But he acknowledged that the public had overwhelmingly rejected the finance bill. He said he would now start a dialogue with Kenyan youth and work on austerity measures, beginning with cuts to the budget of the presidency.

The IMF, which has been urging the government to cut its deficit to obtain more funding, said it was closely monitoring the situation in Kenya.

"We are deeply concerned about the tragic events in Kenya in recent days," the IMF said in a statement. "Our main goal in supporting Kenya is to help it overcome the difficult economic challenges it faces and improve its economic prospects and the well-being of its people."

Ratings agency Moody's said the shift in focus to cutting spending rather than boosting revenue would complicate the disbursement of future IMF funding and slow the pace of fiscal consolidation.

(Reporting by Aaron Ross; Additional reporting by Giulia Paravicini, Monicah Mwangi, Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo, Hereward Holland and Dicksy O'Biero; Writing by Sharon Singleton; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Philippa Fletcher, Andrew Heavens, Peter Graff)